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Proviso Probe

Saturday, September 23, 2006

ETHNICITY, Obesity and availability of grocery stores

Chicago Defender (Emily Withrow, AP)
A three-week Medill News Service investigation conducted in Austin and Lakeview revealed stark differences in food choices available to residents. Austin, Chicago's largest neighborhood, located on the West Side, has just one large grocery store and three smaller ones. Lakeview, a posh neighborhood on the North Side, has five stores that add up to roughly double the square footage when compared to those in Austin....

Supermarkets are scarce in low-income neighborhoods, where residents must shell out more cash than their richer counterparts - for less healthy food.

Unless the large grocery chains, carrying a full line of nutritious foods, locate more of their stores in the city's impoverished areas, already high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in these communities will continue to rise.

I'm not sure Lakeview and Austin are comparable neighborhoods.

I'm also not sure that having healthier food available causes people who eat poorly to eat well.

For example, I have a friend who was diagnosed with diabetes. The doctor told him he had to improve his diet and exercise. It's tough for him to change his lifestyle.


  • As you said: "I'm not sure Lakeview and Austin are comparable neighborhoods."

    "I'm also not sure that having healthier food available causes people who eat poorly to eat well."

    Another example of news reporting that is both inconclusive and hardly worth the time of reading. Much more analysis would be called for.

    For example, one might contact big grocers, such as Dominics, Jewel, etc. Ask about the data related to costs of operation and profitability for particular locations. Seek to find out what locations experience the highest costs and have the lowest profitability per $ of sales. Then ask why?

    They probably won't tell you the facts associated with the last question. The fear is that they become subjected to accusations of prejudice and racism. I could tell you, but folk would then charge me as racist, never suspecting that I'm African-American.

    Let me put it this way: Business investment naturally flows where there are opportunites to achieve returns on investment that at least exceed the organization's weighted average cost of capital. To do otherwise is essentially a dis-service to you shareholders. Has nothing to do with race or ethnicity, which is one thing I like about capitalism.

    Communities have other options but don't necessarily possess the requisite technical skill to exploit the opportunities. And, frankly, it seems no one else is breaking down the doors to come to the aid of such underserved areas. And so it is, regardless of the situation, i.e. schools, healthcare, and food --- not enough people in my opinion care enough, and once that's understood disadvantages can become effectively addressed.

    As for your friend with diabetes, there's no issue here either. If it's too tough for him to change his lifestyle then he will die. Before that, he might become blind, lose a limb, a burden for some other caregiver, or die from kidney disease or heart attack. Friends will attend the funeral and subsequently go back to their own personal affairs. In time he will have become forgotten.

    By Anonymous passing through, at 11:37 AM, September 23, 2006  

  • Count me as skeptical that the free market takes care of everything.

    People's values shape the decisions they make.

    For example, how is it economically sensible for a young person to volunteer for military service that may leave him or her dead?

    Or look at most sales training. Buying is an emotional decision, not a logical one.

    So, the argument that racism isn't in play because it doesn't make sense in free market economics is one of the most disconnected from reality arguments around.

    Free market economics didn't end Jim Crow, activism did.

    By Blogger Carl Nyberg, at 11:46 AM, September 23, 2006  

  • Carl,

    That was my point. The idea of free markets taking care of everything is a huge misnomer. It exists as part of the great mythology we call the American Dream.

    Things become more clear once you understand that most society, i.e., the folk who have the ability do act on behalf of the less fortunate, is simply steeped in self-interest and have little inclination to address the various disparities for which we seem so disturbed.

    Markets aren't inherently racist, but they do function in a manner that exploits disparities. These disparities, by and large, tend to intensify up to the point where action has to be taken...the proverbial tipping point.

    The kind of spirit exemplfied by the young person who sacrificed herself for a cause in which she so passionately believed is atypical in our population. Positive change will emerge in our culture as more like her come on the scene. But don't hold your breath waiting.

    By Anonymous passing through, at 1:20 PM, September 23, 2006  

  • Supermarkets aren't charities, and the costs associated with operating in Austin are much gigher than Lakeview. It's as simple as that.

    By Blogger Roy, at 4:27 PM, September 23, 2006  

  • few things are simple. i was working in a grass-roots community organization in austin, westside survival initiative, twenty years ago, and grocery availability in austin has changed, by one store.
    markets act like markets and will always tend to be the last institutions to climb on. profitability answers need only when it lacks something better.
    values matter, of course, but isolating a value is both hard and unrealistic.

    By Blogger PastorNancy, at 6:59 AM, September 24, 2006  

  • A couple of points from a devil's advocate. If you read the article, it says that:

    a) Lakeview & Austin are the most similar in size and population of all Chicago neighborhoods, but provide stark contrasts where economics are concerned.

    b) Consumption of fruits/veggies increases by 30 percent for every grocery store opened.

    c) Business experts say there is no reason a store in Austin would be less profitable.

    d) The grocery stores were contacted and would not comment.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:42 PM, September 28, 2006  

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